A few months ago I wrote about the “buy-with” concept from Sam Harrison’s “IdeaSelling: Successfully Pitch Your Creative Ideas to Bosses, Clients and Other Decision Makers”. Harrison contends, and we agree, that it is much more success-oriented to gain decision-makers’ agreement and approval when you build their understanding throughout a project than to wait until the end and try to wow them with a “isn’t this terrific!” presentation. “Buy-in” is a dangerous game; it’s ultimately better for all concerned to be buying together than to say “come on in!” at the end.
In this cost-conscious climate we’re often asked to help organizations review their information services and develop recommendations “within new parameters” (translation: “we have fewer employers…or… the university’s overall budget is begin reduced & everything’s on the Web anyway, so we can’t spend this much on information services/libraries”) And, of course, the decision-makers controlling the library or information services want the recommendations tomorrow (ok, I exaggerate — they want it in a week…sigh….which is just as difficult)
We’ve worked hard not to be “eagle consultants” who swoop in, perch awhile, peer around, leave some droppings and fly off again. Staff involved with information services need to be involved in this project, no matter what. And so must those making the final decision. It’s a bit like planning and delivering a delicious meal for decision-makers (ok, probably not a good analogy, but try it for a minute). You have to be clear at the outset if there are any allergies or “no go’s” (things an individual absolutely refuses to eat) or the meal, no matter how beautifully crafted won’t appeal to those individuals. And you absolutely must keep them informed of what you’re finding as you put the menu together; help them see what’s being discovered and what the possibilities are — otherwise, they’ll be blind-sided, feel they weren’t listened to and refuse to pick up the tab.
The same goes with staff. Many people can’t hear a word you say once they’ve heard the “review” word or “new solutions.” No solution will work if those implementing aren’t engaged all the way along, even if what’s being discovered is uncomfortable. It’s a lot less stressful for staff to turn the rock over WITH you to discover what’s underneath than for them to be kept out of the loop and feel that the rock has been dropped on their foot.
Although I’ve written this from the consultant’s perspective, the steps are exactly the same if you are leading this project within your library or organization. Clarity regarding your role as project leader and engaging management or faculty decision-makers and colleagues is key. Since we’ve worked on this process so many times, we thought it might be of interest to you:
1. Situation Analysis:
- Base Assumptions: clarify the decision-makers’ expectations and boundaries, and your expectations that their involvement at various check-points to discuss the findings, interpretations and possibilities is critical
- Current perceptions & usage of information services: work with staff to review whatever reports, stats, etc are available to understand which client groups are using what services, how and when; begin interviewing clients and potential clients (there’s no such thing as a “non” client — they are all “potential” clients) to probe how they view the current information services — where, on their radar screen do the current services fit?
2.Information Behaviours & Preferences:
- Decision-makers’ & clients’ work challenges & responsibilities, & current info solutions: continue with those interviews and surveys, probing to discover what decision-makers and clients/potential clients need to deliver (what are their key responsibilities? what do they need to deliver to their clients?), what currently accelerates their delivery time or ability to fulfill their responsibilities, and what drives them crazy? What “Tylenol” would they most appreciate? What’s their workflow? Try to keep the interview away from information services as much as possible — your goal is find out their behaviours, problems and preferences — and from there, you and the staff can work out potential solutions.
3. Learn from Others:
- Interview & explore information solutions in other organizations: reinventing the wheel is costly and boring. You have lots of contacts in the information and library environment. Who is doing what? What’s working? What’s not?
4. Build Buy-With
- Formally and informally communicate the findings as you synthesize and analyze them
- Work with staff as you interpret these findings and begin scoping possibilities for responding to these interpretations with decision-makers and staff
- It really doesn’t matter if you work with the decision-makers or the staff first; what matters is that they are engaged in some way
- Scope out information solutions, strategies & plans for implementing & communicating with as many staff as possible, or at least those who are influencers
- Ensure everything bears the “draft” watermark ( we aren’t kidding — this is all draft — it’s all potential until the decision-makers have responded and discussed)
6. Discuss & refine
- Talk with the decision-makers about the draft recommendations in terms of how employees or students or patrons are working; in otherwords, decisions-makers already have some background from your check-in’s, so use a scenario or story to engage them in the recommendations. (Hint: keep the written draft until after you’ve talked with them about the key points — take it from us, do your best not to give a document in advance).
- Keep your story or scenario short; look everyone in the eyes; breath; “stand tall, talk short” as Harrison says; be balanced; know your stuff, know that you’ve involved as many as you could (clients or patrons, staff, managers, etc) and that you were on the ground, not looking down from a nest high in a tree; be confident that these are “drafts” and drafts are best when refined. And they’ll be refined, not refused because you’ve been buying “with” the decision-makers and staff, not for.